Episode 2 of Out Of The Bubble podcast is out and this weeks guest is Zoe McNulty, body activist and headmistress of The School Of Strut. We talk about body confidence and the importance of unleashing your inner Beyonce. Here are some of the best bits!
How would you describe yourself?
I'm an international dance fitness presenter, body positive activist, champion of curves and Headmistress of School of Strut. Really all a fancy way of saying I teach dance! I help women feel good about themselves what ever their shape or size. As a curvy dancer, not that I've been that much judged and a fitness instructor, that's had an effect on my career. In fact I've had to forge my own path through the fitness industry because many doors were closed to me and I didn't have the body that brands were looking for so I made my own brand up.
Have you always had this passion for dance?
Yes, I think I probably danced my way out of the womb. I stopped for a couple of years whilst doing my A'levels but then went back to it. I hadn't realised how much I had missed it, the buzz that I felt and I was on such a high after that first class back. I thought there is something special about this, why am I not doing this as a career? I want it in my life and I want it be something I pass on.
Whilst I was a student I couldn't afford the gym fees so I offered my services and volunteered and they put me in there exercise to music classes, that's aerobics to you and me. That's where I thought , ooh I think I've found what I'm meant to be doing.
Zoe McNulty, The School of Strut
I read somewhere that you wanted to be a backing dancer on Top of the Pops, how true is that?
Yes throughout my life really, my best friends at the time were doing it so I was moving in those circles. I avoided the commercial dance world because I didn't want to be told daily that I can't do this because you're too big. I didn't want to be told to lose weight continually, I thought I'm going to develop an eating disorder that's not healthy. I stepped away from that dream knowing that actually that dream would be bad for me.
Have you always been quite self aware of your body confidence?
I kind of thought about that over the years and thought yeah was it really a very wise decision or was I just a bit lazy. Other people went for their dreams and never stopped until they got there and I didn't have it In me. I think it has to do with laziness to be honest. But in hind sight, you know I'm a christian, I believe in God, maybe god put that in my mind, don't worry , that's not for you, crack on and you'll find your path.
Where did the idea for School of Strut come from?
Regardless of travelling and working all over the world I have still always done my weekly dance classes in London. About 12 years ago there was a lovely forward thinking chain of gyms that asked me if I could do a dance class in heels. They'd seen an American concept of a class in heels where the people were doing squats and lunges in heels, trying to sell the benefits. To me that was all wrong. If anyone was going to be in heels it's got to be a dance class. The first session the women came in all timid and unsure and by the end of the 45 minute. class they were swinging their hips, heads held high, the transformation was incredible.
What's your average age in the classes?
I'd say roughly 35 to 55. My ideal client would be starting from 18, actually younger than that to be honest. The younger generation really need help with their body positivity, its definitely on my radar.
It's tends to be the mums who have forgotten who they are because they've spent the last two decades being mum, being a wife and they've forgotten what it's like just to be feminine.
What kind of feedback do you get from women that come to your classes? Have you any stories you can share?
I get loads of women messaging me afterwards saying they've braved wearing a bikini for the first time after coming to the class which is always great to hear.
One lady had saved for years and years for a tummy tuck, she'd had three kids and had been unhappy with her tummy and saved up for about ten years to have the operation. She came to one of my Strutology classes and realised she was perfect as she was, she didn't need it. Literally it was eye opening for her and she stopped the plans and went holiday instead. She went on to meet a handsome, young gentleman who loves her curves. That's pretty incredible to me.
On the surface it looks like we're just prancing around in heels. but there's so much more going on under the surface.
How did you get involved with Taryn Brumfitt and The Body Image movement and become an ambassador?
It was through my friend Nicola who is also in the fitness industry and the only other person that gets it in the industry, she's become my confidante. She told me abut the Body Image Movement so I looked in to to it and realised this lady was doing some great stuff. I filled a lengthy questionnaire in about myself and was accepted as an ambassador. I hosted a screening of the documentary Embrace at Streatham Odeon and it was a great evening, it had sparked some deep thinking in people.I met Taryn and she really wants to do one of my classes as well, she loves the concept.
What changes would you like to see in the industry?
There's a long way to go.
Diversity across all the media platforms, more diverse body shapes and sizes and abilities. Ban diets, educate people on health at every size. Everyone can be healthy at any size. Making body positivity compulsory in education for primary and secondary schools. Getting the kids to talk about their insecurities and if you're a mum listening the best thing you can do is stop putting yourself down in front of your kids. That's only going to create problems in your children.
What made you join the Real Catwalk, organised by American model Khrystyana last Summer and were you scared to do it?
I didn't sleep very much the night before and that's not like me. I've been challenging myself to be more body confident and I was concerned about showing my midriff as I'd never done that before.
Everyone smashed the catwalk on a busy Saturday in Trafalgar Square, London. Zoe looking fabulous with Khrystyana, the organiser of The Real Catwalk.
Zoe clearly loved taking part in this event as she was there again this year, owning that. catwalk and full of confidence. It was an amazing day.
What's one of your favourite songs that really gets you motivated?
'Chandelier' by Sia
What book has inspired you?
I would recommend 'Health At Every Size' by Linda Brown
Who inspires you?
Taryn Brumfitt, founder of 'The Body Image Movement'. www.bodyimagemovement.com
Zoe has inspired me so much and I love watching her motivated so many women. I am excited to be working on a possible collaboration event in the future with Zoe so watch this space!!
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In the meantime... keep being fabulous x